Yanukovich’s Election In Ukraine: Highly Unfavourable For Georgia

TBILISI, Georgia -- As expected, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will compete in a run-off ballot on February 7 for the Presidency of Ukraine.

Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovich, who in the last four years has experienced a remarkable reversal of fortune as he was portrayed as the villain of the disputed 2004 Presidential election which triggered the so-called Orange Revolution, led in the first round on January 17 with 35.32 percent of the vote, while Tymoshenko, the Jeanne d’Arc of Ukrainian politics, scored 25.05 percent, according to Ukraine’s Electoral Commission.

The incumbent President, Viktor Yushchenko, seemingly punished by the electorate, gathered only 5.45 percent of the vote, less than Sergei Tigipko, a former Economy Minister, who gained 13.06 percent and Arseniy Yatseniuk, a nationalist, with 6.96 percent.

Contrary to the opinion of most analysts, including Georgian pundits, Ukrainian voters will have to decide between a clear-cut and somewhat fragmented vision of Ukraine’s foreign policy priorities. The electoral programmes of the two candidates are unbalanced, not exhaustive and lacking a long term perspective.

Furthermore, since no candidate has achieved the required majority and both remaining have now to seek support from other political parties, perhaps with different positions, there is not much doubt that the next President will face serious difficulties in finding a consensus on national interests and foreign policy.

For the Georgian Government the stakes are very high. This was showed by the taped phone conversation purportedly between Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili and Georgian lawmaker Givi Targamadze, who is also a member of the ruling party in the Georgian Parliament.

In a phone conversation, Merabishvili is urging Targamadze, who is in Ukraine, to arrange for the sending of hundreds of Georgian non-registered “observers” to Donetsk, Yanukovich’s electoral stronghold. This Machiavellian plan manifestly aims to make sure that Yanukovich does not steal the election by luring or bullying voters or stuffing the ballot boxes.

If Tymoshenko wins the efforts of the Georgian “observers” will be underlined and even maybe rewarded, but if she loses anti-Georgian sentiments will be fanned by Yanukovich supporters, guided by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and The Kremlin.

Viktor Yanukovich’s election programme is very similar to that he put forward in previous Presidential elections. It is based on a foreign policy according to which Ukraine is a non-bloc state, defending its “national interests” with a pro-Russian orientation.

Yanukovich blames President Yushchenko for the deterioration of bilateral relations with Russia, a position shared with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who in August 2009 sent a harsh open letter to Yushchenko. His approach to the Georgian leadership is also in line with Russia’s position as he initiated a Parliamentary commission to investigate the supply of arms to Georgia after the August 2008 armed conflict.

If he becomes President, Yanukovich, whose party has a partnership agreement with United Russia, headed by none other than Putin, will also not hobble Russia’s negotiating effort to extend beyond 2017 the Sevastopol Russian Black Sea Fleet's lease.

An extension of this lease would be detrimental to Georgia’s interests in Abkhazia. Russian warships could cruise the Black Sea more easily and consolidate Russia’s military presence in the separatist territories. Yanukovich supports the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, a pledge which should make all observers of Ukraine’s politics suspicious of Yanukovich’s supposed autonomy from Moscow.

In his election speeches Yanukovich keeps repeating that relations with the EU should be pragmatic, not “Euro-romantic.” He has not rejected the idea of a common market with the European Union (EU) but he believes that the establishment of the a Single Economic Space, also known as the Eurasian Economic Community (a customs union due to be implemented during 2010), within the Moscow-let Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is in the best economic interests of Ukraine and ex-Soviet republics.

In any case, according to the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) regulations, no country can be a member of two different customs unions. Contrary to Yushchenko, the leader of the Party of the Regions is unlikely to pursue alternative sources of energy in order to reduce Ukraine’s dependence on Russia’s gas and oil, and he might press for deepening Russia’s involvement in the modernisation of Ukraine’s gas transport grid.

For Georgia, the election of Yanukovich would sound the death knell of GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova), renamed in 2007 the Organization for Democracy and Economic Development. In 2007, at the final press conference of the GUAM summit, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev declared that GUAM has transformed from a regional union into a serious international organisation due to important regional projects, common interests and a coincidence of positions on many issues.

The year before Ukraine's President Yushchenko, who held the GUAM Presidency, had also formally declared the institutionalisation of GUAM and its transformation from a group of countries into an international organisation. However from one summit to another GUAM makes substantially the same objectives and declarations. GUAM is urgently in need of a revival, although the 2005 Chisinau summit was dubbed the “GUAM revival summit” after a four-year hiatus.

GUAM members keep repeating that their organisation is not an anti-Kremlin alliance, but it is clear that all its member states pursue independent foreign policies, often designed to distance themselves from their former partners, above all Russia.

GUAM declares in its statutes that it aims to integrate with the European Union (EU) and NATO. The least we can say it that the organisation has fallen short of that aim. In June 2007 the European Union turned down an invitation to attend the Baku GUAM summit.

One should not be surprised if as soon as Yanukovich is sworn in as President of Ukraine he withdraws Ukraine from GUAM to please the oligarchs at The Kremlin. Then GUAM will lose its raison d’etre as an organisation representing a counterweight to Russia’s interference in GUAM members’ affairs.

In 2007 and 2008, before Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory, Yushchenko made it clear that more effective peacekeeping tools were needed in conflicts in the post-Soviet space in order to create “more confidence” among the parties involved. “A new regime of confidence and new tools are needed for the resolution of these conflicts and we should find measures which have not been used before,” Yushchenko said at that time.

Yushchenko's comments were interpreted as a cautious backing of Tbilisi’s position on the replacement of Russian-led peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia with, as it put it, “unbiased” international forces, implying GUAM peacekeepers or others.

With the defeat of Yushchenko in the January 17 election, Georgia has lost its most energetic and faithful supporter in its battles with Russia over the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Yanukovich is not likely to continue this policy. Quite the opposite, he could take the role of a steadfast mouthpiece for Medvedev and Putin.

Georgian authorities can find solace in the fact that unlike the 2004 election, where Yushchenko and the Orange coalition beyond doubt gained legitimacy to govern, on February 7 such a scenario is unlikely to come about.

Neither Yanukovich nor Tymoshenko will be able to rule Ukraine solely by him/herself since social and moral support for doing so will be lacking. If Yanukovich wins, this will be a major obstacle during his Presidency.

Source: The Georgian Times